The $300 billion disaster would dwarf other multibillion-dollar weather disasters, which have been startlingly common in the United States in recent decades.
Between 1980 and 2009, there were at least 96 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters (normalized to 2007 dollars) in the United States alone, including 26 between 2006 and 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2011 Statistical Abstract, which was recently released.
Damage from those most recent 26 events, which doesn't include damage from any weather events that resulted in less than a $1 billion disaster, or 2010 disasters, totaled roughly $78.3 billion and accounted for 306 deaths -- barely a fourth of the estimated cost of the "superstorm."
The most common billion-dollar-plus weather disasters are hurricanes or tropical storms, which have accounted for 27 of the 96 events and 51 percent of the damage. However, droughts are also highly destructive, accounting for more than 25 percent of damage.
Before 2006, Hurricane Katrina, the greatest single weather disaster recently, caused an estimated $133.8 billion in damage, in 2005. But even with the addition of the other multibillion-dollar hurricanes in that record-breaking season, Hurricanes Dennis, Rita and Wilma, the total damage was roughly only $170 billion.
The dollar value does not take into consideration the death toll, which for those four hurricanes approached 2,000. The USGS release related to the superstorm does not make a death toll projection.
The second and third most costly weather disasters since 1980 were both heat wave/droughts, which cumulatively caused an estimated $132.5 billion in damages. Both droughts affected mainly the central and eastern parts of the country, but the 1988 drought, the more costly of the two, was more widespread.
Counting heat-stress-related deaths, the death toll from those two droughts is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000. Monetary damages were mainly related to agriculture.
Since Katrina, Hurricane Ike has been the most devastating weather disaster. Ike was the largest Atlantic hurricane (in terms of size) in history, and it slammed Galveston Island in September 2008, killing 82 and causing $27 billion in damages.
The other $10 billion-plus weather disaster since Katrina was Midwestern flooding in June 2008. This 500-year flood -- which means a flood that is considered to have a .2 percent chance of occurrence -- was the most destructive of a series of floods in 11 states across the Plains and Midwest that year. Alone, the June flood caused an estimated $15 billion worth of damage to crops and property and killed 24.
The Gulf Coast and Deep South have experienced the greatest number of disasters, with several states having had between 31 and 35 disasters. Of the Western states, California is the most prone to weather disasters, having had at least 16 disasters with at least $1 billion in damages since 1980.